May 2023 - Memories of VSA in Tonga 50 years ago

Recently I had the pleasure to assist in the 2023 VSA Research Project, celebrating 60 years of Volunteer Service Abroad (VSA). This internationally recognised organisation has assisted community development organisations across a vast spectrum of community needs. VSA has recruited and sent thousands of New Zealand volunteers with the knowledge, skills and experience to match requests from across the Pacific Islands, Asia and Africa.

Pouring through records of assignments and projects held in storage reinforced my belief in the vital impact volunteers and VSA have played in partnering with a wide variety of community development organisations, many operating on a shoestring budget. Priscilla and I responded to opportunities requested by the Catholic Mission in The Kingdom of Tonga during 1973-74.

1973, Graham & Priscilla Gibbs in Tonga

Priscilla (a trained Home Economics Teacher) found her niche at St Mary’s Technical College. I was granted leave without pay by The NZ Police. Having been a carpenter and joiner earlier in my career, my assignment involved teaching carpentry and joinery and music at Api Fo’ou College. We enjoyed the enthusiastic response of students who appreciated the practical nature of the lessons.

Living in Ma’ufanga, a suburb of Nuku’alofa, provided openings for us to join in the life of the village community. We shared simple accommodation with four other volunteers each year, sharing cooking and other domestic responsibilities. Our situation gave us opportunities to support younger volunteers, living in family environments.

Fifty years on, we have fond memories of experiences shared through our humble service to the proud, warm-hearted, fun-loving friendly people. Our lives and careers have been enriched by our interlude living in The Kingdom of Tonga.

Graham and Priscilla Gibbs